Bags packed, gassed up, and ready to go on a road trip! Top of mind road trip destinations from Manila would come in a list of “The Usuals”—Tagaytay, Batangas, Baguio, La Union, Baler, and whatever pops first on your “Where to go on a road trip” Google search. Surely, when I started going on weekend road trips, all those were on my list too until I felt that there was no new place to go anymore unless I fly out. So I dug deeper not only into Google’s pool of suggestions but also in an actual map of Luzon and found out more places to check out—underrated travel destinations that even I have never heard of! If you’re looking for new places to go to, have a look at these spots.
MALANGAAN CAVE, SAN RAFAEL, BULACAN
Known as the land of heroes and home to plenty of centuries-old churches, what a lot of people don’t know is that Bulacan also has a lot of natural caves that are perfect for spelunking! Malangaan Cave is known for its beautiful limestone formations that you need to pass through before entering the cave. It may feel like the walls are closing in as you walk through the horseshoe-shaped rock formations and as you enter the cave through a hole on the wall, the temperature suddenly drops and you’re suddenly walking in total darkness with only your flashlight guiding your path. The scenery extends until you exit the cave. Now high up on the wall, the first thing you will see when you exit the cave is a beautiful mountain view and as you hike down, the view of the cave’s exterior is even better. It only takes an hour tops to explore the whole cave and it is also for free.
MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK, NUEVA ECIJA
It was quite a challenge finding this hidden gem in the middle of Nueva Ecija’s nowhere—imagine cruising along dirt roads with no signal (hence, no GPS) and minimal signs—but boy, what we were getting ourselves into was totally worth it! 5 hours away from Manila, beautifully tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range, is an emerald green river passing through 16-meter high off-white limestone walls and bamboo rafts you can rent to cruise through it. There’s also a cave you can check out and it’s best to hire one of the kids who enthusiastically volunteer to be your tour guide to go spelunking with you. You can spend the entire day here until sunset but make sure to be back on the road before night falls—unless you plan to set up camp and maximize your Minalungao experience!
LAKE PANDIN, SAN PABLO, LAGUNA
This is my personal favorite that I keep coming back to at least once a year. San Pablo, Laguna is also known as “The City of Seven Lakes” and their most popular lake is Lake Pandin. For the next two hours, you will be floating on a huge bamboo raft that could easily fit up to 20 people, rowed from the shore to the lake’s other end by skilled oarsmen. Lake Pandin has an emerald green water enclosed in an elevated terrain—trust me when I say that it feels like a hidden paradise that only a few people know. Your tour package comes with a traditional Filipino meal that you need eat with your hands and coconut water to wash it all down. While you’re at it, you can even go lake hunting around San Pablo and look for the other 6 lakes like I did!